Friday, August 04, 2006

Urban Urdu Tagging

Pakistani Grocery Store, East Village.
Whether it’s the tags or the Urdu writing of the shop’s name, most people in this neighbourhood would be unable to read these words. In navy blue and outlined / shadowed with yellow is some writing in Urdu. Urdu is the main language spoken in Pakistan (and written with the Arabic alphabet). in black we have SENA or SEN4. in the lower left is some illedgible text in white. What I find so fascinating with this piece is the Arabic-isation of SENA’s “S”. It looks so much like those Arabic / Urdu letters that have a low sweeping line. Don’t forget that Urdu is written and read from left to right. The English tags are written and read right to left.


“Hell Zone”, TAD and TCT, 2006 (?), spray-paint on concrete, on loan from the East Village.

I shot this work in the east Village on 3rd Street between 2nd Avenue and the Bowery. The wall faced perpendicular to the street, being a building that was on one side of a community garden. To get the photo I had to stick the camera lense through the wire fence, and shoot without being sure I was aiming at the right place.

Hell Zone gives us some great classic-styling overlapping bubble text. The letters are big, confident and juicy. The “N” looks great; the rendering of the “O” as a smiley character with a mischevous grin is cute. It escapes being cliché just through its obvious refernece to what is a classic old graffitti motif.

What looks at first to be a piece is actually just a throw up over someone else’s art. For instance, the colors that initially seem to be the fill-ins for “Hell Zone” go beyond the edges of their letters. If you look carefully you will see some retarded skull on the right, and a toy looking throw up on the left. Before laying down their own piece, TAD and TCT have first gone over this stuff with some white paint. This has reduced the definition of that first tag, toning it down so that it can serve as a generic coloring base for TAD and TCT to lay down their piece. I generally think that shit graffiti needs to be written over, and a look behind the dominating ‘Hell Zone’ shows amateurish material. This a great and justified appropriation of some colors where there would otherwise just be a plain outline.


SAMO©, East Village, 10th street between 1 and A.
SAMO©!!!??? This was Basquiet’s original tag which he plastered the East Village with in the early 1980s. Somehow it’s back; Basquiet’s back in his same old haunt.


Dripping tag, Housten Street, East Village
Netta told me that drips are a distinctive feature of New York graffiti. It gets hot in this city during Summer. Painting whilst exposed to raw sun rays, on hot surfaces, with paint that got warmed up in your back-pack whilst on the way to some train yard or wall, all make dripping an essential risk factor that has to be taken into consideration. This all made New York writers particularly adept at dealing with drips. Many learnt how to ensure they didn’t mess up their peices. Others incorporated the chaos of dripage into their work


East Village, Avenue A
As far as I know, graffiti writers only ever use commercial spray paint (traditionally raced from a store, but sometimes even supplied to the writer by a paint company who has decided to sponser a famous graff artist!). Such spray cans only come in the colours that the paint factories produce. Pro artists on the other hand mix their own paints for themselves. Knowing how to mix colours to get the right colour or shade you’re after is an important tool in an artists arsenal, but one that seems to be unavailable to graff writers: how the hell do you mix colours and get them back into the aresol can? Considering the igeniuity that writers displayed with realizing that different types of nozzles could be fitted to spray cans in order to shape the spraying paint; this could be a possibility.


Graffiti Inside the Subway Tunnel, 6 train.
This was taken on the 6 train somewhere close to the Brooklyn Bridge stop. I was so glad I got this shot. I’ve been admiring and been spinning out on this stuff ever since I was a kid. And it’s very hard to photograph: you have to shoot behind glass, usually in a train full of people, trying to capture an image moving quickly away.

This is without doubt my favourite site for graffiti: inside the subway tunnel. Tags and throw ups along the black walls of the tunnel. They only becomes visible when the train slows down to the point that markings on the tunnels walls can become more than a missed blur. How much of this stuff are we missing? Who writes this stuff!? Who’s risking their everything to put it up!? When and how do they do it? Someone was willing to enter into the very veins of the city to scrawl. They went to a place this is an element of the city’s physical foundation. To me this is part of the mystery and awe occasionally felt towards graffiti; that’s it’s not only obscure: it’s eerie.

A few weeks back, I got talking to a guy on the N train who told me he tags inside the tunnels. He just dresses in black, smoke some kiff and walks to the end of the station platform. There he slips down into the tunnel. When a train comes you just merge into the soot.